Review of Paul Beckman’s Kiss Kiss
Truth Serum Press
By Niles Reddick
Paul Beckman’s newest Kiss Kiss is an eclectic collection of flash fiction that runs the gamut from humor to serious. It’s Beckman’s fifth book and one that is finely conceived and carefully crafted, and I am looking forward to reading even more of his short fiction in the future.
Beckman has published over three hundred and fifty stories in literary magazines and journals and has received much recognition including being the editor’s choice for 2016 Fiction Southeast and one of the winners of Best Small Fictions 2016. He runs the monthly FBomb flash fiction reading series at KGB in New York City, and his story “Brother Speak” was selected for the 2018 Norton Microfiction Anthology. All of these recognitions are richly deserved. These seventy-eight stories keep readers turning pages. The most disappointing experience is to have the book come to an end.
“Kiss Kiss” is the story that gives the collection a title, and one might assume it’s about a first kiss on the playground in elementary school. To the contrary, it’s about a family visit to grandma’s house, something many readers can relate to, but this is no ordinary grandma and no ordinary family. This eccentric family borders on grotesque with a grandma that wears a mask because she’s afraid of germs, and her daughter encourages the grandchildren to get pills from grandma’s bottle and refill them with aspirin and to look for cash under the mattress and other places grandma might use for hiding. The mother encourages the children to take it all because grandma will think she forgot where she put it. I imagine Flannery O’Connor would be pleased if she were around to read Beckman.
Another favorite of mine I’d read in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine even before the collection is “Mom on the USO Circuit”. I loved the story then and I loved it no less the second time around. In this story, a mother likes to tell the story of having met Elvis in Germany when he was in the military and she was on the USO circuit, but she’d never been to Germany, and in fact, didn’t get into acting until she divorced her husband, a bucket turned pickle salesman, and was an understudy for Gracie Allen at the end of Vaudeville. Between marijuana and gin, her brain recreates a life her family understands was never real.
From a dentist with no eyebrows in “Dean’s Dilemma” to “Floaters” that recounts the reality of someone who has those annoying black dots in his eyes, Beckman offers us slice after slice of the good and bad of humanity. Each story is realistic and believable even when it might be a stretch in reality like in “Wallflower Solution” when a wife gives her husband a crib sheet at parties to use since he’s an introvert and in “Epilogue” where two daughters who the parents thought had been abducted reappear after five years, having been living it up with a couple of truckers in their mobile homes. In both stories, what typically might be a happy reaction for the wife and then to the parents in these stories turns out to be the exact opposite. What they want and hope for slaps them in the face. The anecdote that be careful of what you wish for seems more real than ever.
For the flash fiction connoisseur, Kiss Kiss is a must read and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Beckman won an award for this collection. There are many surprises here and like other writers, I found myself thinking time and again, “I wish I’d written this.” But what I loved about it most was its inspiration. Beckman’s work unearthed long buried memories for me to revisit and write, and for that influence, I am grateful.
Niles Reddick’s is author of the Pulitzer nominated novel Drifting too far from the Shore, a novella Lead Me Home, and a collection, Road Kill Art and Other Oddities. Author of over a hundred and fifty stories published around the world in literary magazines and journals, Reddick works for the University of Memphis, Lambuth campus, in Jackson, Tennessee. His website is: www.nilesreddick.com